Words Lyn Gardner   

After walking away from Hollywood and a traumatic past, #Me Too’s ‘defining face’ Rose McGowan has found a safe space in her own art.

When Rose McGowan was ten, she made up a planet that she could visit in her imagination and christened it Planet 9. “It was a place I could go to in my head, a place where I felt safe and could be happy, where I could be me,” says the actress turned artist and activist.

McGowan may be familiar to many from the TV series Charmed, about a sisterhood of good witches, and indie movies such as Scream and Grindhouse. But she is best known as the woman who was one of the first to call out the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein for alleged sexual misconduct, leading to her being dubbed ‘the defining face’ of the #MeToo movement.

Now she adds another string to her bow with her Fringe debut show, Rose McGowan: Planet 9, which will be at Assembly Mound for four performances just weeks before Weinstein is due to go on trial in New York on charges of harassment and assault. Does it bring her any satisfaction that the man she accused of sexually assaulting her in 1997 will finally be facing in court some of the 80 or more women who have also made allegations against him?

“Satisfaction is not a word that I can hang onto,” McGowan replies. “I think it is going to be brutal for those women who will be up against him in the trial. I worry for their health and wellbeing because I know what it’s like. But this needs to happen. There is no satisfaction because it’s not yet done. But there’s now something on the record that says this kind of behaviour is not okay.”

Planet 9 – a multimedia performance inspired by her music album of the same name, featuring projections of her artwork and interspersed with McGowan talking about her life – is part of her own journey of self-healing. She says that acting is now behind her and that one of the good things to have come out of her exposé of the way that Hollywood has traditionally seen and treated women is that it has made her develop as an artist in her own right.

“For a long time, I saw myself only in the way that Hollywood saw me. Behind the scenes I was always making visual art and songs, but I viewed myself only as a commodity because that is how Hollywood saw me. Finally, after Weinstein and #MeToo, the only way I could keep my sanity through an incredibly difficult time was by making art. It was the only thing that brought me solace, the only thing I had left. Art has a power. I know it’s healing me and I know I’m not unique, so if it can heal me, it can heal others too. I hope that Planet 9 can do for others what art has done for me.”

McGowan was once described as, “the angriest woman in Hollywood”, but when we talk on the phone she is quiet and thoughtful, measured rather than furious. Yet she has every reason to be angry. After all, what ten-year-old needs to make up an imaginary place where she feels safe and which offers her, “an antidote to everyday life and the weird stuff that was going on”?

McGowan is a survivor in every way, born in Italy into an American family embroiled in the Children of God cult from which they eventually escaped. Her childhood and adolescence were chaotic. As a young teen, she was living on the streets, and as an older teenager she became anorexic in a coercive relationship.

She escaped that by becoming an actress and falling into what she describes in her devastating memoir Brave as, “one of the biggest cults of all: Hollywood”. It’s a cult that she has been determined to expose, even though the personal cost has been high.

“Hollywood,” she says, “is a very antiquated place. It’s not progressive in any way. Being a good girl in Hollywood and behaving how it wants you to behave is very much in play, even now.”

She adds sadly: “We send girls out into the world to be polite, and that ties their hands behind their backs. My hands were tied. It’s a damn shame we’ve had to wait so long to figure out that we don’t have to be good girls and we can be ourselves. We can be free. I think the young women of today are getting that a lot faster, but it’s still an issue. What #MeToo has done is to cause a cultural reset. Structural change still needs to happen, but it has given survivors a language in which to talk about what’s happened to them.”

I ask whether she’s had any regrets about telling the world about her encounter with Harvey Weinstein in a hotel room in 1997 – which made front-page news when she went public about it ten years later. “I would do the same thing all over again, even though I know it would be brutal and that I would have to give up almost everything. Which I have. I have always wanted the world to be a better place. I thought that when I was ten when I invented Planet 9, and I think that now.

“Maybe it would be easier if I didn’t lean into the headwinds, but I can’t help myself. I’m made that way. So yes, I would do the same all over again. Of course, there are things I’d do differently, but at the time it hadn’t been done before so there was no way of gauging what it would be like to speak out and break the silence. It was brutal. But it’s been rewarding because it’s helped set a lot of people free. I have to take comfort from that.”


Rose McGowan:
Planet 9,
Assembly Hall, 15-18 August, 1pm, £22


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